Friday, November 28, 2008

Connecting the Top and Bottom

The Monster in the Corner, with test train. . .

Whew. Got the helix constructed, after three attempts. It's pretty solidly built--God forbid what will happen if (knock on wood) I get a plumbing leak in the wall void this thing occupies!
After two abortive attempts at building the thing, I took it down to the bare base and rebuilt it, taking care to measure the gradient on the climb upward, a task made quite a bit easier with my Husky "Professional 9"Multi-Function Digital Level with Storage Bag." This tool really made the helix possible to construct for an idiot like myself. Besides the usual visual bubble levels, this thing provides push-button access to a display that provides level in degrees, inches of rise to foot of run, and grade in terms of percentage.

Another view of the Helix. Sorry for the mess!

Husky digital level--invaluable for building a helix. . .

Irwin one-handed clamp: another must-have for helix construction.

The level helped keep us "honest" while laying the most important part of the structure, the sub-roadbed risers atop the base level. With the first level of roadbed secured to these at a constant 2.4% climb, it was mostly a matter of then adding level after level, separated by 3 1/2" high spacer blocks. Several blocks were held in place by clamps--including nifty one-handed clamps by Irwin--and each level's rise, in turn, could be measured and kept within limits.
It isn't perfect--you'd be amazed how little the difference there is visually between a 2.2% and 2.7% grade within an 18" run--but it is far more consistent than the first two attempts. Proof of this: a load test of a train of Auscision NGTY wheat hoppers behind a Trainorama 49 Class loco. The first attempt at the helix, complete with steep spots and a flat spot in front, found the loco barely able to take 9 cars and a brake van up the helix. The rebuilt version found it able to climb the grade with 11 cars and a van, and, with a bit of a running start, 12 cars and a van--a moot point, i'd guess, as the crossing loops will handle 10 of these cars, one loco and a van.

All that's left is cleaning up a couple of track joints, wiring track wiring feeders, and waiting for the upper benchwork to extend atop the helix towards the large circular sub-terminal. At that point, I'll secure the last 4 feet of upper level helix and work the vertical transition. Eventually, it'll all be encased by fascia panels. I'll likely add infrared detection sensors at the top and bottom of the helix for crews to be alerted when their trains are about to re-enter the visible portion of the layout.
The scene atop the helix should be visually interesting: a giant circular grain terminal, served by 2 tracks. A pair of tall concrete silo elevators will be adjacent to the circular structure, helping to hide the hole in the wall the mainline entering the helix makes. Here's a shot of the Grain terminal I'll be modeling.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

About the new 'North of Narrabri' photo. . .

Inspiration strikes in the strangest places. The other day, while entering the spare bedroom, I was struck at the silhouette image of a train in the staging yard against the south window. This evening, I set up a few locomotives and grain cars and had at it against the afternoon sky. With a little Photoshop magic wand action, I was able to tranform what was a piece of plywood, some track and a few models into an image of a 49 Class locomotive, FWH grain wagons in tow, trundling back to Narrabri ahead of a summer thunderstorm in 1979.

I'd never been there, certainly not 29 years ago, but through the magic of good models, a digital camera, and some computer software, anything is possible.

The Helix
It just gets better. After asking "what of?" on an internet discussion board, one theory was put forth that the helix flattened out where benchwork sections were spliced together prior to assembly atop the risers. This seemed to make sense, especially when I noted that splicer plates were stacked three-levels right atop each other. . . and their locations coincided with the dreaded "flat-spot." I didn't have flattening problems with roadbed sections "field joined" atop spacer blocks. So, back to the beginning. I've stripped the helix off the base, will reset the sub-roadbed risers, and reconstruct the helix roadbed, staggering the splices, using 1/4 plywood for the splice plates, and measuring the rise once again to see that the grade remains more consistent. I'm determined to get this right, despite the additonal hassle.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Staging trains. . .

Here's a photo of the upper-level staging yard (we'll say it represents "Werris Creek") in the spare bedroom adjacent the layout area. It only needs wire drops to the power bus and it'll be ready to go (when I get around to operating the railroad, that is!).

The Werris Creek yard contains five tracks--one 7' track (long enough for 12 FWH and 2 branchline locomotive), two 6 1/2' tracks (standard length of my crossing loops), and two 6' tracks. There is room to add a 2 1/2' track accessed via a switchback if it becomes necessary (long enough to hold, I'd suppose, a 3 car DEB set). The lower level staging, representing Moree, will only require four tracks according to the working timetable. Since its' low height above the workbench will significantly cut into my work space, half of the staging yard will be removable.

As you can also tell by the photo, the workbench--hell, the entire spare bedroom--is a real mess in the wake of the staging yard construction. But that's the way it is when I build something: get the project done, and let everything fall (literally) where it may in the meantime.

The M. C. Escher Helix
What about the helix, you ask? Isn't it done yet?? Nope.

Soon after my workgroup departed after the initial work session assembling the thing, I hooked up a DC power pack to the track and hauled out a representative train to test on the grade. I'd hoped a single Train-O 49 Class would handle 10 new Auscision grain hoppers and a guard van with little slippage, but such wasn't the case. The helix, it seems, has a flat spot that runs around 24" in length and significantly increases the gradient on ether end of the flatter stretch. I cna get the 49 Class and hoppers up the grade, but it requires a real touch with the throttle. I'd hazard that a 48 Class, when it becomes available, won't do as well, given its (apparent) lighter bulk.

Why is there a flat spot in the helix? Beats the hell out of me. I've disassembled it once already, remeasured everything half-a-dozen times, scratched all the hair off my head, and rebuilt it. . . same result. I'm guessing perhaps there's some formula i'm missing for the initial vertical easements for the grade that are translating slightly upgrade and causing the climb to flatten out. Until someone can explain this to me, this is, I guess, how it will stay. It's never as easy as it originally seems to be!

Vacation Planning. . .
Got my vacation dates from work set, and Lance and I have purchased Qantas tickets to Sydney out of Dallas-Fort Worth departing April 7 next year. We'll have two weeks to look around, take photos, take notes, watch trains, load up on Aussie hobby goodies and--we hope--meet several of the fine folks who've helped us thus far with our modeling projects from afar. Maybe we'll even be able to operate a NSW-based model railroad? Or two?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'round and 'round in the corner

Pearre, Shane and Frank--the "Pie Guys"-- get the helix going. . .

And here's what it looked like last spring. Progress!

It's been over a month since I last posted on this blog; don't take the lack of any reports as meaning there hasn't been any activity--on the contrary. While waiting to get some "experts" over to the house to help me assemble the critical helix linking the two levels of the railroad, I was busy with other things:

  • October meant the completion--at least for now--of the Namoi River bridge. It's "good enough" for right now to run trains over, as it has been painted and Micro Engineering bridge flex track attached atop. I've still got to add the guard rails, various details (such as nut-bolt-washers), etc to it, but that can wait until I go back at some point and scenic the river area. For now, it's operable, and at this point, that's good enough for me.
  • Also used plans of the Narrabri passenger station to make a rough illustration board stand-in structure, again, until i get around to scratch building a permanent structure. I built a very crude refreshment room, based soley on a few photographs.
  • Finally got around to fabricating and installing points on the upside of Narrabri West's yard, and laid the mainline down along where the station there will reside. I've got around a dozen points left to fabricate for the upper level, which, thank God, puts me well over halfway done for the upper deck.

The biggest construction milestone has been moving ahead on the helix. I'd never built one before, so this also has been a big challenge for my admittedly limited brain! The helix is 60" across with a 27" radius curvature linking decks 16 inches apart with four inches between levels. . .that works out, accounting for vertical easements on the top and bottom, at around a 2.4% gradient. A single 48 Class SHOULD be able to pull a 10 car grain train plus guard van around the helix. . .this is just an assumption based on what a 47 Class pulled in trials on a friend's layout. We'll see next March, I suppose!

This past evening, a number of my modeling mates, which call themselves the Thursday Night Pie and Jazz Society (which has nothing to do with pie nor jazz), met at my place to help get the helix built. Consider this the model railroading equivalent of an Amish barn-raising. I don't think our group has met in at least a year, so it was good to see those who could make it: Frank Treadaway, Pearre Davenport, Chris Atkins, Shane Murphy and Donovan Furin all gave up an evening to help the helix get around 70 percent completed. So far, so good. It appears my limited math skills worked this time. Thanks, guys!

Before building a helix, there's a ton of prepwork involved, so thanks to Lance Lassen's hard work, I had the basic parts ready for assembly: a free-standing frame for the helix to sit atop was constructed out of the "hole in the wall," four sections of helix benchwork, pre-assembled, with track laid atop them. I chopped a few dozen spacer blocks to uniform length and the railroad room was picked up a bit to make it semi-habitable. Most importantly, deep-dish pizzas were ordered to fuel the work crew.

All veterans of helix construction debate what's "good enough"--Chris, Shane and Frank.

I had been undecided whether to use "all-thread" steel rod in the helix construction over the less-fussy, cruder-looking, but quicker to assemble wood-block spacing method. Expediency won out over finesse, and after three hours of work, the crew had assembled three of the four levels of the helix as well as hung the "Werris Creek" staging yard benchwork in the adjacent spare bedroom.

Construction Timetable
The holidays are fast approaching, and with it, considerably less time to be devoted to playing with toy trains. I had set a goal to have the helix installed and ready for the lower-level benchwork to go in by Thanksgiving, and hopefully I'll meet this goal. December, rightly so, will be given to family pursuits, but I hope to sneak away to maybe instal switch motors on the mainline points, perhaps completing track wiring on track already laid, and installing the guys of the EasyDCC system. Then it's into 2009, with these monthly goals:

  • January: Complete benchwork and trackbed for Narrabri sub-terminal grain area; complete upper-level trackwork (with exception of loco depot); complete trackage and wiring in Werris Creek staging yard; build portion of lower-level benchwork that would allow a temporary "Moree" staging yard. Completion of these steps would allow tabled train operations to begin.
  • February: Complete lower-level benchwork and backdrops on Edgeroi-Gurley section; build lower-level staging yard; finish upper-level lighting valance and finish work exterior of helix.
  • March: Complete basic landforms and roadbed on lower level. Install lower-level mainline
  • April: Two week trip to Australia, beginning April 9. Install lower-level lighting and trimwork.
  • May: Finish lower-level trackwork with construction of goods, silo and stock pen trackage.

This should bring me to summer and its many diversions from the layout room. But by this point, the railroad will be fully operational, electrically and in terms of track plan. Everything beyond this is cosmetic: tidying up the visual impact of the layout and bookshelves, the commencement of scenery, and scratchbuilding of structure. But I can certainly take my time getting the last 30% of the layout completed. . .maybe I'll get around to actually detailing, painting and weathering locomotive and rolling stock?